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How Calgary Co-op developed its new look

The Alberta chain has rebranded, with a new store design that focuses on fresh. Especially meat

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A new Calgary Co-operative store in High River, Alta., might be one of the only grocery stores in the country where meat is part of the opening act.

That is to say, in most supermarkets the meat department is in the back. But in this store, the Co-op’s 24th, meat and deli are near the front.

This is part of a huge brand makeover for the 57-year-old Calgary chain as it faces new competition from discounters, an influx of newcomers to booming Calgary and an aging population among its 400,000 existing member-owners.

READ: Getting closer to their hearts

“The competition has changed and our members don’t just shop with us. We knew that we had to refresh our image and become more contemporary to be relevant to new people to Calgary and younger demographics,” says Deane Collinson, Calgary Co-op’s chief executive officer.

To get the job done, Collinson hired one of the best-known supermarket designers in the business: Watt International. The retail brand agency has lately turned heads with the new urban stores designed for Longo’s in Toronto.

In the past, Watt also worked with Sobeys, A&P and, most famously, Loblaw. Back in the 1970s, Watt added much-needed flair to Loblaw’s then-moribund store fleet, subsequently helping launch Loblaw’s spectacularly successful No Name and President’s Choice brands.

For Calgary Co-op, Watt first investigated what makes its customers tick. Among the findings: Calgarians choose their grocery store primarily on location and price.

Nearly as important, though, is produce quality, the availability of a loyalty program and the presence of a helluva good meat department. (This is Alberta, after all.)

READ: Calgary Co-op aims to sell ethically sourced meat

Alexa Retchkiman, Watt’s vice-president of international client development, says Calgary Co-op’s customers were often cherry picking when they shopped.

“They were coming in for some items that Calgary Co-op is known for, but they were not buying the full shop. So we wanted to bring them down to the core of the store, increase basket size, increase frequency of visits and increase sales in the various departments.”

Moving the meat department forward was part of that decision. The department is now located right after produce and deli, before shoppers head to the back and into the bakery.

Freshness became a key focus of the rebranding.

Calgary Co-op’s new slogan, which appears on the exterior store sign in High River, is “Best Fresh.” A punchier shade of Calgary Co-op’s brand colour, red, was also found. The new red (No. 485 on the Pantone colour palette), is reminiscent of juicy tomatoes and fresh Alberta beef.

“When you look at our rebranding it’s really focused on the things that we are the best at, which is produce and meat,” Collinson explains.

Even pictures on the walls were chosen with freshness in mind. In the produce section, a farmer’s hands hold brightly coloured fresh fruit and veggies. The background is black and white, a subtle hint of Calgary Co-op’s farming roots.

READ: For grocery chain’s tomato supplier, it’s all in the family

Store departments, meanwhile, got new names to reflect the co-op’s focus on service and community involvement, says Retchkiman. The customer service counter is now called Customer Care; the pharmacy is Whole Health; the florist is Fresh-Cut Flowers, and the meat counter is Butcher’s Cut.

The store logo has changed as well. The blue guardian, an angel-like figure above the words “Calgary Co-op” no longer appears on store signs. Instead, a bold white “Co-op” stands out brightly against a red background.

Design elements in the High River store will eventually show up in Calgary Co-op’s other locations as they undergo redesigns. And the retailer is hitting its stride on categories once the domain of specialty stores.

Before the rebranding, Collinson says, Calgary Co-op held only eight per cent of the organic produce sales in the High River market. Now it’s 32 per cent. Overall, Collinson wants his stores to attract younger shoppers but not alienate older members.

“People know what a co-op is, they understand our values and they know that we give back to the community. We couldn’t go into a super contemporary design that looked like it was out of New York.”

Good thing, too. Even though Calgary Co-op stores can be found on 52nd Street and 11th Avenue, those are still in Calgary, not Manhattan.

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